AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)—Jason Smith got his customary double-double, and the Air Force Falcons didn’t mind one bit.
Dan Nwaelele scored 18 points and the 17th-ranked Falcons extended the nation’s longest home winning streak to 30 with a 67-58 win over Colorado State on Saturday in a game that was filled with fouls but also a deep satisfaction for them.
Nick Welch, an undersized center at 212 pounds, who gave up 4 inches to both Smith and his fellow 7-footer Stuart Creason, rattled both big men with his dogged defense.
Creason fouled out with more than 7 minutes left after scoring just one basket. Although Smith picked up four fouls, he had 22 points and 10 rebounds.
“Jason Smith, he’s going to get his,” Falcons forward Jacob Burtschi said. “I mean, it’s not like we said we’re going to go out there and shut him down, zero points and all that. He’s a great player. He’s tough to shut down, especially with our (small) size. I mean, he had a great game but we didn’t let anybody else have an all-star game.
“And that’s what it comes down to, one player can’t beat five.”
Nwaelele and Matt McCraw (15 points) led the way offensively despite turning their left ankles, and Burtschi and Tim Anderson had 10 points apiece.
With nine points, Welch was the only starter not in double figures for Air Force (23-4, 10-3 Mountain West) but he drew the highest praise from coach Jeff Bzdelik for his handling of the Rams’ twin towers.
“His mobility picked up a couple of fouls early on. Jason Smith had two and Creason had three in the first half, and they would up with four and five, just enough to put them on the bench and limit their minutes,” Bzdelik said. “Creason went 18 minutes and Jason Smith went 34, but still, the way he scores, it’s almost like a point a minute. His mobility really wears on opposing centers.”
Welch was pleased to shut down one of the two.
“Jason Smith is about as skilled as a 7-footer gets, so we always try to attack the big men like that, make them chase us around the perimeter and try to draw those fouls,” Welch said. “We knew if we executed that game plan, we’d have an easier time out there. But they’re a good team and they fought hard until the end.”
Although Smith had his usual big game, the Rams (15-10, 5-8), who have lost six of seven in what has become an annual February funk under coach Dale Layer, didn’t get much out of Creason besides his personal fouls.
He was whistled for the fourth time on the first possession after halftime. He fouled out shortly after re-entering the game with 8 minutes left.
The Rams chipped away at their 15-point second-half deficit and pulled to 59-52 on Smith’s jumper with 3:38 left, but Smith’s offensive foul negated another basket 30 seconds later and Nwaelele sank his fifth 3-pointer to make it 64-52.
“Every time we’d go on a run they would respond with a big 3 at the other end,” Layer said. “Their seniors would come right back and answer it on the other end. Give them credit. They’re a good team and they have some great leadership. They deserve their ranking.”
Colorado State wasn’t done, pulling to 65-58 on Tyler Smith’s 3-pointer with 43 seconds left, but the Rams burned 14 seconds before fouling Welch, who sank one of two foul shots.
The Falcons, who have won 54 of 55 at Clune Arena, have beaten the Rams six straight times and their 30-game home winning streak ranks just ahead of conference foe BYU, which has won 29 straight and hosts the Rams on Wednesday night.
The Falcons are one win shy of the school record set last season.